Abridged Biography of
Evangelis Vasileiou Zappas (1800-1865)
Founder of the Modern Olympic Games
aka Evangelos Zappas (in Greece), Evanghelie Zappa (in Romania) and Vangjel Zhapa (in Albania)
Zappas was a philanthropist who funded the revival of the modern Olympic Games approximately 1,433 years after the ancient Olympic Games was ceased by the Roman Empire. Zappas was born in 1800 in Ottoman-occupied north-western Greece in a village called Lambove, near Tepelene, in northern Epirus (now part of the Girokastra region of Albania). He began a military career as a mercenary soldier in the Ottoman army of Ali Pasha, a local despot, who ruled the region from a fortress in Tepelene. Zappas then joined Markos Botsaris' Souliot Greek resistance forces in the Greek War of Independence.
In 1831 Zappas migrated to the border of Wallachia and Moldavia. By the 1850s he had become one of the wealthiest men in eastern Europe. He managed his financial empire from his estate in Brosteni, Ialomita, in Wallachia and lived on the outskirts of Brasso (now Brasov) near the borders of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia (now Romania). He made his fortune in land and agriculture and with this wealth he acquired shares in the Greek Steamship Company (aka Hellenic Steam Navigation Company).
Zappas was inspired by the ideas of, the Greek poet and newspaper editor, Panagiotis Soutsos to sponsor the revival of the Olympic Games. In 1856 Zappas wrote to King Otto, of Greece, proposing a permanent revival of the ancient Olympic Games and generously offered to finance the revival. On July 13, 1856 Zappas was praised in the Helios newspaper (published by Soutsos). The article suggested that Zappas' name should be ranked amongst the heroes of ancient Greece when the Olympics was re-established.
On November 15, 1859 the first modern and international revival of the athletic Olympic Games took place in Athens, Greece. This revival inspired Dr William Penny Brookes from Much Wenlock, Shropshire, United Kingdom to further develop his modern Olympic Movement by adopting events into the Wenlock Olympian Games from the 1859 Athens Olympic Games, and organise a national event in the United Kingdom. This was the first modern event outside of Greece that was worthy of being called an Olympic Games. It was held at the original Crystal Palace, in London, in 1866. Dr Brookes in turn inspired Baron Pierre de Coubertin from Paris, France, to found the International Olympic Committee. The legacies of both Evangelis Zappas and his cousin Konstantinos Zappas were also used to fund the Athens 1896 Olympic Games. Although George Averoff was encouraged by the Greek government to fund the refurbishment of the Panathenaic stadium, for the Athens 1896 Games, Evangelis Zappas had already fully funded the refurbishment forty years earlier.
Evangelis Zappas died on June 19, 1865 and left his vast fortune for the modern Olympic Games to be held every four years. In his will he stated that the ancient Panathenaic stadium be excavated and restored for the athletic games and for an adequate building to be built for an exposition. Evangelis Zappas had given his instructions to his cousin Konstantinos Zappas who was the executor of his Olympic legacy. The building was called the Zappeion. The first modern international Olympic Games to be held in a stadium, the Panathenaic stadium, was held in 1870. At the 1896 Athens Olympic Games the building was used as an indoor arena for the fencing competitions. At the 1906 Athens Olympic Games the Zappeion was used as accommodation for the Hungarian team and was the first Olympic Village. During the Athens 2004 Olympic Games the Zappeion became the Media Centre.
(1). "The Modern Olympics - A Struggle for Revival" by David C. Young, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 [ISBN 0-8018-5374-5]
(2). "A Brief History of the Modern Olympic Games" by David C. Young, published by Blackwell Publishing, 2004 [ISBN 1-4051-1130-5]
(3). "Zappeio 1888-1988", published in the Hellenic language by the 'Epitropi Olympion kai Klirodimaton' and distributed for the centenary of the Zappeion, without an ISBN.